Kaleb Ngatoa has toppled the odds and proven his wet weather prowess to secure pole position at Hampton Downs for this afternoon’s New Zealand Grand Prix.
A steady band of rain ahead of qualifying dampened the circuit, making an already slick surface greasy.
It forced all drivers to start the session on wet tyres, and for many in the field it was the first time they had experienced these cars in challenging conditions.
Conrad Clark was the first driver to lay down a benchmark on the wet tyres, posting a 1.45.753s to be 1.2s quicker than Tom Alexander in second.
The 17-year-old then improved his time to dip into the 1.44s bracket, only to skate off the road at Swampy Curves and beaching himself in the gravel. The consequent red flag meant Clark was sentenced a three-place grid penalty for the race.
With time paused and seven minutes remaining in the session, a handful of drivers opted to swap to the slick tyres.
With part of the field on dry tyres, the remainder on wets and rain beginning to fall once again, it looked that Alexander’s best time before the red flag would be enough to claim pole.
However, a flurry of fast laps by the field in the dying stages saw Ngatoa leapfrog into the provisional pole, with Gaunt and Chris van der Drift behind.
Gaunt then surged to the number one spot with a 1.44.720, with Greg Murphy wrestling out a sublime second-place effort.
Soon enough, van der Drift had placed himself on the provisional front row. But it was Ngatoa with a final lap effort to storm to the front, thus clinching pole position.
“First time in these conditions so I went out and just listened to everyone and put a lap together that I was happy with,” said Ngatoa.
“When [my engineer] said P1, I said ‘can you repeat that?’ because I just couldn’t believe it.
“I’m stoked but there is still a race to go.”
Yesterday’s podium getter Matthew Payne was another to improve after the chequered flag and will start fourth, ahead of Murphy.
Clarke ended up with the sixth-best time but will have his position adjusted appropriately, with Alexander, Andre Heimgartner and Damon Leitch behind.
Shane van Gisbergen, winner of yesterday’s race, will have to work himself forward from tenth on the grid.
The 16-strong field will have two races today, with Race 2 starting at 11.40 am before 66th New Zealand Grand Prix gets underway from 5.20 pm NZT.
New Zealand Grand Prix qualifying result:
|Chris van der Drift
|Shane van Gisbergen
Main Image: John Cowpland/TGRNZ